Skip to main content

Hey, don’t sweat it, sis. It’s not like your dead husband could die twice.

WandaVision
(2021)

(SPOILERS) Much as I'm loathe to say it – especially since the results would have been torturously overloaded with pop culture references – the Joss Whedon version of Wandavision would surely have been superior to the one we got (although, it might not have featured Emma Caulfield Ford, since she stood with Charisma Carpenter). I watched the miniseries in several sittings after the run had completed, so I was spared most of the frustration at potential fan service left unfulfilled – anyone would think it was Lost… or Q Drops – but even without such dashed anticipation, it was very evident the show could have been sharper, tighter, and with more emphasis on the twists it did have. And, in some cases, better casting wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

Well, one case really. Kathryn Hahn is fine as a really annoying neighbour (Agnes) – it may just be me, but Hahn’s actual persona is really annoying, so she’s a perfect fit in that sense – but absolutely dreadful as a villain (Agatha Harkness). There’s zero weight, substance or threat once Agatha’s reveal takes place. She’s just some overrated comedienne hamming it up. Why not just cast Kathy Griffin and have done? When 8: Previously On flashes back to Salem 1693, it further emphasises how this could easily be a Whedon show, but Whedon knew how to structure his revelations and muster maximum impact from them. Everything about Agatha’s villainy underwhelms, making her a rather cheap and unworthy opponent for Wanda.

The same is true of Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg). Stamberg’s performance is fine, but once it’s revealed he’s a nefarious plotter, his motivation is generic (who will be undone by a comedy sidekick character). The show’s twists and reveals in general are far from the jaw-dropping kind you’d get with Buffy or Lost. The perspective switch of 4: We Interrupt This Program is less than revelatory, and the exposition regarding Wanda’s manipulation by both Hayward and by Agnes comes as a bit of a cop out; Wanda may take the blame for possessing all those poor people, but hey, she isn’t completely responsible (added to which, there’s the weird line at the end when Monica tells her they – the tortured townsfolk - will never know what she sacrificed for them. Er, come again?)

Evan Peters makes the most of an initially sly return as Wanda’s brother Pietro, resembling his Fox/X-Men version but also bro-uncle cool with it. He’s a lot of fun, and a shot in the arm at a necessary juncture, but it’s it easy to see why viewers convinced this was more than it turned out to be felt short-changed. Including the alt-Pietro by Marvel was absolutely fan baiting, which means revealing him to be “just” Ralph Bohner was rather childish, a knowing and “superior” snub to inevitable expectations of a multiverse reveal. But I did like the “Kick ass” comment just after the discussion of why Pietro looks different (Aaron Taylor Johnson, of course, played Kick-Ass).

As these things go, the “chaos magic” and “Scarlet Witch” climactic “reveal” of Previously On also came across as a damp squib. So what? There’s an element of the demi-urgic false creator to Wanda’s coerced kingdom in Westview, but this kind of magical despot has been done, and with much more economy, in a multitude of science fiction and fantasy books, comics, TV series and movies. More successful is White Vision, even if the Superman III-style clash of doubles was more conceptually than visually resonant. Perhaps because Vision is very much the supporting cast member rather than co-lead.

In a sense this is fair, as Wanda is the instigator, if you like, of the proceedings. Added to which, Elizabeth Olsen is superb throughout, completely masterful in her adoption of sitcom personas and the general mannered but effortless style that comes with them. There are issues with the first three episodes in that, in common with the era of streaming TV, there’s no standing-on-you-own-two-fee-in-your-own-right = ratings = avoidance-of-cancellation onus. Which means there’s no desire to cut to the chase (again, sorry to hearken back to him, but I don’t believe Whedon would have spent all that time submerged in 50s/60s/70s sitcom tropes; he’d have revelled in them, sure, but he’d also have known how to balance that nostalgia element with intrigue and requirement to push the story forward. In the end, the first three episodes serve to emphasise how vanilla the overall plot is. Which doesn’t mean fans were wrong for expecting something more. Far from it. It’s really down to Jac Schaeffer (Captain Marvel) being too enamoured with the stylistic rabbit hole over the storytelling one.

Norm: You’re like a walking computer.
Vision: I certainly am not. I’m a regular carbon-based employee made entirely of organic matter, much like yourself

Those first three (Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience, Don’t Touch That Dial, Now in Color) have sprinklings of actual laughs throughout, but they’re more concerned with recreation than being consistently chucklesome. Bettany probably comes off best in terms of straight robot man responses to situations (“I too have some top-secret gossip – Norm here’s a communist”). He’s also genuinely funny as drunk Vision when a piece of chewing gum has clogged his inner workings (there’s more than a touch of Rik Mayall to the performance here).

Darcy: Part of me secretly wanted a guest spot on the show, but that seriously sucked.

The SWORD side of operations from We Interrupt This Program onwards also feels much less essential than it might have been. Randall Park (Jimmy Woo) and particularly Kat Dennings Darcy Lewis) are welcome presences, but they’re second fiddle to heroine Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). I couldn’t for the life of me tell you anything about Monica – other than her mum being just about memorable in Captain Marvel – or what here superpowers were (I’m sure more of that in the exciting and much anticipated – ahem – Captain Marvel 2). It would have been better to make do with just Darcy and Jimmy. I’d much rather see Darcy and Vision’s oddball pairing in a circus truck (7: Breaking the Fourth Wall) than Monica recurrently pleading emotively with Wanda, material that is strictly functional.

Vision: I am Vision. I do want to help. But what’s an Avenger?

Because WandaVision is so much of a muchness, always quite watchable but never remotely essential, it takes a scene doing something different to remind you of the potential. Those with Vision were my favourites in Age of Ultron, and the character’s potential for relatable philosophical inquiry has been consistently undervalued in the quip-smart subsequent movies. And continues to be so here, where he’s relegated to an automated cadaver for much of the time. Vision’s growing awareness of the limits of his world is engaging but halting (I liked the scenes where we see activity has slowed to nothing on the edges of Westview, but they aren’t as sinister or disturbing as they might have been under Matt Shamkan’s direction).

Indeed, it takes the flashback scene with Wanda in the Avengers compound, following Pietra’s death, to be reminded of the possibilities inherent in this character’s insightfulness. And again, the character’s facility for compassionate reason, seen when he speaks to Ultron at the end of the first Avengers sequel, is revisited when he persuades his “real” self to stop fighting him and consider another course. Post-Age of Ultron, the Vision-Wanda relationship has taken up most of synthezoid’s time (not least in promoting the transhumanist agenda: humans – or mutants! – breeding together! Total anarchy!) It’s notable in this regard that John Byrne’s reasoning for introducing White Vision was an objection to such humanising; Byrne felt his essential robotoid AI-ness should be emphasised, amid other retconning of the Wanda story.

The long and short of WandaVision is that it’s another instance of having to work around two exceptionally powerful characters and not really pulling it off. It would appear there are plans for both going forward; certainly, Wanda’s due to appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. One wonders how long Bettany (knocking on fifty’s door) will continue as the now-bleached-out synthezoid*. Whoever replaces him with have some serious red-white skin to fill. I avoided spoilers for the most part prior to watching the show, but speculation that it would offer little more than the trailers turned out to be largely accurate. In terms of the extended storyline possibilities of an event series, Wandavision largely failed to fulfil them. In that sense, while superior on most levels, it bears a distinct resemblance to those now expired Netflix shows.


*I see there are rumours that Vision is to become transgender, whatever that means for a synthezoid. You have to laugh at Marvel's transformationally woke acumen. The alternate is too tragic to contemplate.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.